CEO Sundays: Kill Your Meetings Culture

By April 7, 2013

Raise your hand if you love meetings. That’s what I thought. There are few things in business that happen so frequently, yet produce such limited results. Sure, we’ve all had a few successful meetings here and there, but for each good one, we’ve had to sit through 10 unproductive ones.

The idea of a meeting isn’t all that bad, but in reality, meetings rarely produce the desired effect. The following are some of the main reasons why meetings fail to meet their purpose:

1.  Only a few voices are heard. That is, some people are predisposed to airing their opinions and dominating the discussion, while others are quieter and either don’t want to speak up or don’t sense an opportunity to speak during meetings. This is one of the most devastating problems because it means most post-meeting actions are based upon the most vocal ideas — not necessarily the best ones.

2.  Good ideas have their own schedule. When’s the last time someone had a “Eureka!” moment in a meeting? This almost never happens. Good ideas should be communicated as soon as they come about and shouldn’t be shelved until the next scheduled meeting.

3.  People hate meetings. Disdain for meetings can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy: If everyone expects that the meeting won’t accomplish much, it probably won’t!

If meetings are so terrible, why does everyone continue to hold them? Meetings are called for myriad reasons: to get status updates, to discuss ideas, to collaborate on projects, to disseminate information, or to solve a specific problem. Managers wrongfully believe that meetings are required to fulfill these needs. In reality, there are some great ways for organizations to achieve these ends without holding meetings.

Instant messaging services are great at helping employees with light collaboration in real time. Instead of calling a meeting to discuss minor issues or writing emails that may sit in someone’s mailbox for hours, instant messaging provides a means for immediate communication. Some of the best tools in this category are HipChat and Campfire.

Video chat services are also good for quick, real-time collaboration, but they can be better than instant messaging when the issues being discussed are more complex. The benefit of video chat services over meetings is that they allow quick log-on and -off abilities from wherever teammates are working, eliminating wasted time from traveling to a single location to discuss the issues at hand. Some of the best tools for this purpose are Skype, Google Hangouts, and WebEx.

Discussion boards are possibly the best tools for eliminating the need for constant meetings. The great part of discussion board conversations is that they are asynchronous, allowing everyone to participate when they are ready, instead of breaking up the day with meetings. Discussion boards are best used for long, ongoing conversations because they allow for delayed responses, but they also provide an excellent history of the conversation. Anyone who is new to a project can quickly read past posts and get updated on what has been going on. Some great discussion board tools are Ginger, mailing lists, and traditional web forums.

By adopting these meeting alternatives, you can eliminate many of the problems that plague traditional meetings.

1. Discussion boards, video chats, and instant messaging ensure that everyone gets to participate in the discussion.

2.  These tools provide flexibility around time and location. No one has to be in the same office, or even have the same schedule, in order to successfully collaborate.

3.  Just as important as the practical benefits, these tools make for happier employees because they aren’t stuck in physical meetings all day.

In the end, the entire purpose of meetings is to provide an effective means of communication and collaboration. Certainly, there are some cases in which physical meetings are necessary, but there are many more situations in which this purpose can be achieved without requiring meetings — and all the problems that go along with them. Now that these alternative tools exist, there’s no reason why every organization shouldn’t be able to kill half its meetings and boost both productivity and morale.

About the Author:

Peter Baumgartner is the founder of Lincoln Loop, a full-service tech company specializing in web and mobile development for companies of all sizes, from startups to publicly-traded corporations. Peter is an expert in Django-based web development and a thought leader in entrepreneurship and tech. He welcomes anyone to reach out to him on Twitter or Google+